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A4 microprocessor gets inside AppleTV, iPod Touch

Posted: 06 Sep 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:microprocessor? PC? controller?

Apple Inc. has spread its A4 microprocessor across all it non-computer products, as can be seen from the company's latest products announcements. This has reduced hardware and software design and manufacturing costs. This makes Intel lose three sockets in the AppleTV, and it looks like the chance for future non-computer design wins is slipping further away.

Apple announced it is using its A4 in the latest iPod Touch and its re-launched AppleTV product. The chip is already used in the iPad and iPhone 4.

The previous AppleTV was effectively a PC using an Intel PentiumM-class processor and two supporting chips, an Intel memory controller with embedded graphics and an I/O chip.

Source: EE Times.

The three chips cost $60-65, took up 975mm2 of packaged area and 242mm2 of silicon area, according to Jeff Brown, VP of business intelligence at UBM TechInsights, a division of United Business Media, the publisher of EE Times. By contrast the A4 replaces all three chips with one device that is estimated to cost Apple $15 to $20, takes up 196mm2 of packaged space and 53mm2 of silicon area.

"There's phenomenal reuse for lowering manufacturing and design costs here," said Brown. Now Apple can "develop using one OS on all those productsthat's a big benefit," Brown said.

One disadvantage of the move is the apparent inability of the A4 to decode MPEG-4 H.264 video at the full 1,080-progressive resolution supported by the best TVs today. The new AppleTV costs just $99 but only supports 720-progressive video.

The resolution would not be a big issue for gamers if they could use the $99 box to tap into Apple's existing library of low cost games available for the iPhone and iPad games. It's not clear whether AppleTV will be able to run games or applications on a TV.

"Bluetooth wireless controllers exist for gaming, and could be a next step for AppleTV," said Brown.

He guesses that Apple is reusing many of the components from the iPhone on the new AppleTV and iPod Touch products, possibly including a Broadcom BCM4329 Wi-Fi controller that also supports Bluetooth and FM radio. The original AppleTV, launched in January 2007, used a Broadcom BCM4321.

The new iPod Touch also uses an A4 processor and a three-axis gyro, presumably the same STMicroelectronics part used in the iPhone 4. Another TechInsights analyst said he expects the part will be used in a future iPad.

The iPod Touch used to have a Samsung SoC based on an ARM core. Thus iPod Touch developers did not have to rewrite as much software as the team behind the AppleTV which was based on the x86. It uses the same 960x640 pixel so-called Retina display as the iPhone 4. However, it does apparently use a new camera.

The new iPod Nano shifts from the Apple wheel interface to touch input. It also adds an accelerometer, again presumably the same device used in iPhones.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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